Home > Papers from 2015 > A new role for olfaction in ant navigation

A new role for olfaction in ant navigation

For many years, the role of olfaction in studies of insect navigation has been limited to the pinpointing of a point source of odour or the use of trails in collectively foraging species. Whether and how insects use environmental odours as part of their general navigation is unclear. This paper provides a beginning to studying such questions. Firstly, by taking a sensory ecology approach one can address the question of whether a foraging environment actually provides stable olfactory information. To do this, samples are taken from a 100m by 100m patch of desert. It was found that indeed the desert does have stable odour features that might be useful for navigation. Then it is tested whether ants can use odour in some way for navigation. Ants are allowed to run a route alongside an array of artifical odours. Then zero vector ants are taken to a similar array on a test ground. It was found that ants familiar with the odours do travel in the correct direction and are much more likely to produce long straight path segments in that direction, thus it seems they have learnt to associate something about the odours with the route back to their nest. What they have learnt we don’t yet know.

Cornelia Buehlmann, Paul Graham, Bill S. Hansson and Markus Knaden (2015) Desert ants use olfactory scenes for navigation. Animal Behaviour 106, 99-105, doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.04.029

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Categories: Papers from 2015
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